Why Do We Suffer?
Today when I arrived home from my meetings at the Married Student Stake that I serve in my wife told me about two families that have had tragedies strike them. One family is a neighbor of ours and the husband is a member of our church and the wife is not. The wife has been planning on being baptized this coming Saturday, March 8th and the family has been excited and anticipating a great spiritual experience. Things changed earlier this week, when she took two of her medications too close together instead of one in the morning and the other in the evening. When the paramedics came she was only breathing about 4 times a minute and had lapsed into a coma. After doing several tests and finding no brain activity she was taken off the life support but she suddenly started breathing on her own. The family is by her side and hoping for a miracle but there has been no change.
The other family has four children, two of them serving missions. The two younger children (a 14 year old boy and a 12 year old boy) and both parents died of carbon monoxide poisoning the evening of February 22nd and the two missionaries have returned home to bury their family members. Neighbors found the family after they went looking to see why they did not come to church on Sunday.
When see suffering like this we often ask, “Why do things like this happen to such good people? The two missionaries were serving the Lord, why would God not do something to protect their family? If God loved them as the scriptures say why would he allow such a tragedy happen to a family who had given so much to send two sons in the mission field at the same time? Why couldn’t God have caused the other woman to realize what she was doing? Why do bad things happen to good people?
Kenneth H. Beesley, in a New Era article explained why suffering is part of this life:
“God allows us to enter this world with all its risks, aware that facing and overcoming such perils is essential to our eternal progression. You recall that Joseph Smith while in Liberty Jail pleaded with the Lord concerning his own sufferings and those of his fellow Saints. The Lord answered, “If thou art called to pass through tribulation; if thou art in perils among false brethren; if thou art in perils among robbers; if thou art in perils by land or by sea; … if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; … if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that . Italics added.) (
“What seems to be a tragedy (and a cause for suffering) may from an eternal perspective be a blessing and a cause for rejoicing. Sufferings have the potential of blessing man. They may strengthen us for future tasks. They can make us sensitive to the pains of others and more willing to sacrifice for others. (Christ suggests that one must lose his life to find it.) They may help us appreciate Christ’s atonement; they may help to purge our imperfections and to purify us.” (“What is the Purpose of Suffering”, New Era, April, 1975)
Elder Ronald E. Poelman added his thoughts on suffering in a general conference address in 1989:
“Adversity in the lives of the obedient and faithful may be the consequence of disease, accidental injury, ignorance, or the influence of the adversary. To preserve free agency, the Lord also at times permits the righteous to suffer the consequences of evil acts by others. (See .)
“Some may respond to such innocent suffering with resentment, anger, bitterness, doubt, or fear. (See .) Others, with a knowledge and testimony of the divine plan of salvation, often respond with faith, patience, and hope born of that “peace … which passeth all understanding.” (.)
“The plan of salvation presented to and accepted by us in our premortal state includes a probationary period on earth, during which we experience opposites, make choices, learn the consequences thereof, and prepare to return to the presence of God. Experiencing adversity is an essential part of the process. Knowing this, we elected to come into mortality. (See .)” (‘Adversity and the Devine Purpose of Mortality”, Elder Ronald E. Poelman, General Conference, April 1989)
In another conference talk Kent Richards explained what he learned about pain and suffering:
I have pondered about the purpose of pain. None of us is immune from experiencing pain. I have seen people cope with it very differently. Some turn away from God in anger, and others allow their suffering to bring them closer to God.
Like you, I have experienced pain myself. Pain is a gauge of the healing process. It often teaches us patience. Perhaps that is why we use the term in referring to the sick.
Elder Orson F. Whitney wrote: “No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted. It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude, and humility. … It is through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, that we gain the education that we come here to acquire.” (“The Atonement Covers All Pain”, Elder Kent F. Richards, General Conference, April 2011)
From these teachings and others we learn that suffering is part of this mortal existence and always will be. The scriptures tell us that there must be an opposition of all things. If not we would not be able to enjoy the good things that are part of life:
“For it must needs be, that there is an in all things. If not so, my firstborn in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.” (2 Nephi 2:11)
The prophet Joseph Smith suffered at the hands of wicked men most of his life. During one time when he was in a Liberty, Missouri jail he cried out to the Lord:
long shall thy hand be stayed, and thine eye, yea thy pure eye, behold from the eternal heavens the wrongs of thy people and of thy servants, and thine ear be penetrated with their cries?
Yea, O Lord, long shall they suffer these wrongs and unlawful , before thine heart shall be softened toward them, and thy bowels be moved with toward them? (Doctrine and Covenants 121:1-3)
After being unjustly held for more than six months in jail, having been poisoned and subjected to many other degrading experiences, he plead for the welfare of his friends and people. He did not ask for his relief, but the relief of others. In answer to his prayer the Lord said:
Thou art not yet as Job; thy do not contend against thee, neither charge thee with transgression, as they did Job. (Doctrine and Covenants 121:8-10)
7…if the very jaws of shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee , and shall be for thy good.
Even Christ, the only person to live in this mortal life perfectly, suffered and learned from the things he suffered (Hebrews 5:8). Speaking of his suffering he said:
Which caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might drink the bitter cup, and shrink—
Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and my preparations unto the children of men. (Doctrine and Covenants 19:16-19)
None of us are exempt from pain and suffering. When it comes, how we deal with it will be determined by how much faith we have in our Heavenly Father and our testimony that the Savior Jesus Christ can heal all wounds, all pain, all suffering and we can be made whole again.
When others are suffering, we have the opportunity to provide Christ-like service by being there to comfort and provide hope. Often times we don’t know what to say or what to do. The best thing may be for us to just go visit and cry with them, to tell them we are praying for them, give them a hug. Even going and doing the dishes or laundry, anything will help, just be there with them. When we lose ourselves in service to others our own pain and suffering is often healed as well.
My heart goes out to the two families and others that are suffering with the loss of loved ones. I unite my prayers with many others who are praying that they will feel the healing power of our Savior Jesus Christ and that they will be comforted in the knowledge that families are eternal and they will be with them again.
Your thoughts and comments are welcome.